How to work closely with operations and finance

How Lynne Puckett transformed a disparate legal force into an efficient, results-oriented team

Lynne Puckett joined the team at Colfax in 2010, but her connection to the industrial enterprise began even earlier while she was a partner at Hogan Lovells. Her experience as the company’s outside counsel gave her the necessary insight to identify areas of improvement, retool the in-house team, and bring costs under control.

Lessons from the CIA

Prior to working in law, Puckett spent five years in the CIA where she had unique experiences—not the least of which included jumping out of planes, blowing up a variety of things, and learning tough skills. She credits her experience with the CIA in the development of her leadership style. “I learned a lot that was transferable not only to law but to project management—which is a primary focus for me,” says Puckett. Getting a group of people together to focus on a project, drive it, and communicate well without creating bureaucracy is important. “Accomplishing your goals is completely related to how you interact with the people whom you need to accomplish those goals.”

The Impetus

The first challenge Puckett identified within Colfax’s legal function was the dysfunctional communication between inside and outside counsel, who operated like two arms out of sync. “There were many counsel who were accustomed to fighting their own battles without an appreciation of the global strategy, which is, of course, required to prioritize legal objectives,” says Puckett. “As a result, they were not used to working closely as a team alongside in-house counsel.” Outsourced litigators, she noticed, had many unchecked processes that could, unintentionally, negatively impact Colfax’s costs and results. So she aimed to create unity among the teams by first aligning the outside partners—who had grown accustomed to little to no oversight—with the business objectives and in-house team.

“They were smart and talented attorneys but they did not know the business needs,” says Puckett. “They were not able to effectively balance those needs with the immediate desire to win every battle and every point, resulting in occasional Pyrrhic victories.” Realizing the existing landscape was not yielding the necessary results, Puckett resolved to make swift changes to the department.

The Plan

Puckett began with a counsel audit and determined the talent gaps both in-house and in Colfax’s outside counsel roster. Seeing the need to strengthen the in-house legal bench to better manage outside counsel and new matters, Puckett began recruiting a highly talented team to the in-house group. The focus of the new legal lineup would be on outcomes and results. Puckett created a strategic management style coined “active matter management,” where the team views each matter on a transactional basis (not just a prior relationship basis) and selects the best outside counsel for that particular transaction, be it litigation or acquisitions. “It evolved out of necessity,” says Puckett. The system apprises her of all legal matters in terms of litigation and shifts in strategy. Puckett also empowers her team to involve themselves in major matters that arise and take an active role in managing them while maintaining good communication with the business leaders.

The Results

Having expertly built her team by scouting top talent—many of whom she had worked with in the past—and implemented active matter management, Puckett says Colfax has gotten better results and has successfully resolved many open matters, all while developing robust compliance programs and extensive global training programs. Using the Colfax business system, which focuses on continual business improvement, and with the help of her CEO and CFO, the legal department is running efficiently.

One of the less quantifiable results of the department overhaul has been a change in culture. “We’re very open and challenge each other before we arrive at a final decision on strategic steps in any particular matter,” says Puckett. “That’s how a good team functions.” This dynamic has allowed other solutions to arise as well.

The department is now benefiting from a new IP program that incentivizes associates to submit patentable ideas to maintain Colfax’s position as an innovator within its industry. “It allows us to get in front of patents as they are developed to make sure we are protecting our innovations, not infringing on others, and aggressively protecting our IP,” says Puckett.